We've all done it: asked students to switch papers before turning them in for editing and peer review, only to receive superficial comments and vague critiques that make us wonder if peer review is really worth the time. Some of us have students put sentences on the board for whole class peer review. The sentences go up, but when I ask for edits that might make them better, I hear nothing but the crickets chirping.
Although extensive research indicates that peer review of student writing is beneficial and often critical to revision, many teachers are opting to leave it on the back burner. But I don't think it belongs there and would like to propose some ways technology can improve peer review. In fact, research is identifying a number of advantages from online peer review. The comments reviewers provide are easily read and printed. Students tend to maintain greater focus on the task in the online format. Teachers can monitor the discussions and weigh in as they see fit. Technology makes it easy to compare peer review drafts with finished papers to see progress. I've used the methods I'm describing here, and they are making peer review a more productive part of the writing process in my courses.
Once you've created a separate account for work purposes, you can also create a “secret” group where you are the administrator. You simply add one student (whom you must “friend” temporarily) and ask that student to add others in the class.
Students can post specific writing assignments on the group “wall,” indicating who they are so that the peer review can be personalized. From there, peers write comments on each post. The author can update his or her original posts to respond to feedback. This may promote further discussion and “replies” to comments. Using Facebook instead of an online learning platform such as Moodle or Blackboard enhanced participation by 50 percent among my students. It is a platform that students have access to 24/7; it alerts them when someone comments on their post and gives opportunities for a greater variety of feedback (video, comment, links, or reactions'). It's also free. Another feature for teachers is that peer reviews can be thoroughly monitored. Teachers have the ability to save, delete, and print all conversations.
If you do use online learning platforms such as Moodle or Blackboard, the chat room function works well for in-class peer review. Websites such as Edmodo provide the same type of chat room for free. Simply hook your laptop to a projector and invite students to use their smart devices to join you online. I ask targeted questions about what the students are writing and reading, and they provide verbal or typed feedback in real time. It places all students at the front of the line for sharing their writing on the “board” quickly and efficiently. Additionally, these chats may be saved and printed.
So far, the two platforms I've discussed for using peer review save time in class and enhance levels of participation. However, they do not automatically improve the quality of the peer feedback. To achieve that goal, I've incorporated something proposed by Michaels and O'Connor called Accountable Talk (http://ifl.pitt.edu/index.php/educator_resources/accountable_talk). They propose that students support their opinions with evidence using the following formula: “Student name” + critique + WHY using evidence. I pre-taught this approach by sharing example conversations with the phrases in bold that I wanted to be reproduced. I asked students specific questions about what they were reading and treated bolded phrases as vocabulary. I also created sentence frames and gave multiple practice opportunities to write responses in class. Students then worked in groups to practice verbal Accountable Talk with realistic situations. We worked on these phrases throughout the semester. I “liked” posts that used them correctly and brought these examples to the class's attention. When students used Accountable Talk, their edits went beyond grammar and spelling. They referenced word choice and format and referred the writer back to the assignment, the textbook, and the grading rubric for evidence to support their opinions.
In my experiences, these three approaches have improved the quality of peer review in my courses. They use class time efficiently and encourage greater student participation. These technologies are also making my classroom more collaborative. I hope you'll consider how they might work in your writing assignments.
Amy Burden (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an instructor at Mississippi College.